Lilian Foxcroft: An almost forgotten Quaker

Liz Field, New South Wales Regional Meeting (and former member of Tasmania Regional Meeting)

For some years, I have been interested in the Dictionary of Australia Quaker Biography (DAQB), my interest in it being aroused some years ago in Hobart in the 90s, when I read almost the entire dictionary aloud to Margaret Wilkinson, who was blind. Back then, each RM had one copy, in six or seven enormous files. I was permitted by our librarian to take them out one volume at a time.

 Since then, the DAQB has gone digital and is available to us all on our Quaker website, a huge amount of work to get it there! It has, however, quite a few gaps, and I have made a list of about a dozen that I know, all in Tasmania, the only RM of which I have enough knowledge to do this.

 I have recently been researching one such Friend, Lillian Foxcroft, who I remember as an elderly Friend at Hobart Meeting when I was a young Friend in the mid-sixties. My information comes mostly from Western Australia Regional Meeting, Trove digital newspapers, and from other online searching.

 Lilian was born Lilian Norbury in England in about 1884, and clearly grew up to have a strong sense of social justice, and a desire for equality for men and women. My earliest information about her is that she joined the Suffragette movement which included the Pankhursts; and in 1910 was arrested for smashing windows of the Liberal Association. She was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen days hard labour along with other Suffragettes. She continued her protest in gaol, refused to eat and was force-fed. Her embroidered signature is found on a quilt commemorating 80 suffragettes who suffered the same punishment, and which is in the Museum of London.

 Lilian married Gilbert Foxcroft, a school teacher, in 1911, and soon after that they migrated to Western Australia. They had not been there long, when events leading to the Great War had Lilian writing long impassioned and eloquent letters to the editor of the West Australian daily newspaper. They were printed in full, as were a few responses to them, one of which included “This has brought upon my poor devoted head a typical, feminine fulmination”, signed “Lilian Norbury. Foxcroft.”

 Needless to say this brought another response from Lilian which included “At the risk of being accused of feminine pertinacity, I must again emphasise the point, that this gentleman did not know what he was talking about.”!

 Her letters in 1914 and 1915 were on warfare, not surprisingly; and she was strongly against the idea of conscription, and through the Anti-Conscription League of WA, urged people to vote against the referendum. Her lengthy argument against the referendum was published in the Perth Sunday Times, which attracted an also long rebuttal from the Editor.

 She also lectured publicly in Kalgoorlie against the referendum; but this got her into trouble with the law once again. She was charged with “having, on December 12 made statements likely to cause disaffection to his Majesty”. Lillian was fined £15, a huge sum for the time. She was in good company, as another person accused of such offences was John Curtin, a future Prime Minister.

 Moving forward a few years, I find that Lilian applied for Membership of the Society in 1937. Her application spoke of her becoming ill at ease in her Catholic Church, as she felt that the ritual tends to lift from the members of the Church, the personal responsibility which she believed should be shared by all. She was accepted into membership in 1937, and her membership, with that of Gilbert’s, was transferred to Hobart when they moved there in 1955. Gilbert died in 1962 at the age of 71, and Lilian died in 1969 at the age of 84.

 Few of us now amongst Australian Friends have memories of her, but Charles Stevenson remembers ministry from Lilian at 1957 General Meeting when she spoke of sunshine suddenly entering her drab prison cell, just as Spirit can illuminate our humdrum lives.  Stephanie Farrall tells me that immediately after she and Lyndsay married at the Hobart Meeting House, Lilian gave Lyndsay the important advice: that gratitude must not only be felt, but voiced. Good advice indeed!

 I hope that something of Lilian’s life can now be entered in the DAQB, and that Friends from various RMs might be inspired to fill in any gaps from their own meetings.

 Lilian’s letters of 1914-15 can be found in “Trove” digitised newspapers and are well worth reading.

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